Shabbat Devarim 5783
We always make a big deal out of completing one of the books of the humash. We did just that last Shabbat, chanting hazak hazak venithazek–“be strong, be strong, and we will be strengthened”–in honor of the person who had the final aliyah of Sefer BeMidbar. We stand for the final verse of the book. It’s a moment of pomp and circumstance. What do we do when beginning a new book of the Torah? Not much. We certainly don’t waste much time. Already by Shabbat afternoon, we’ve started to read it at minhah, with no ceremonial rituals accompanying the simple act of moving on. The Torah scroll is written in such a way as to leave some blank space, but we don’t even move to a new column. There’s no ritual turning of the page.
We’ve been trained in our religious education to consider the Hebrew Bible in general, and especially the five books of the humash, to be akin to the works of Tolkein, or Nancy Drew mysteries, or any other collection by the same author. It’s better to see these books like those that line your own shelves at home. Your book collection is a loosely knit anthology; its sole common denominator is you. And our library might even include anthologies, which we recognize as a series of ideas held together by cover and binding. Not every essay in these anthologies necessarily share a common author or opinion. That’s what makes these books interesting.
All of this is a useful introduction to Sefer Devarim, the fifth and final book of the Torah that we began reading in full parshiyot this morning. Tradition calls this book Mishneh Torah, a second rendition of the Torah. In it, Moshe gives several farewell speeches from his perch on the brink of the Promised Land, which he destined to see from afar but never to enter. One would expect that Moshe would reiterate both narrative and law consistent with what appears in the previous books of the Torah. But Devarim is full of contradictions and reframings that catch the eye.
On Shabbat morning, we will look at a few of these discrepancies, including the establishment of a judiciary, Shabbat, and the war on Amalek. Ane we will consider what it all means for a serious modern Jew reading Torah in the 21st century–in other words, all of us!
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wise
Candle lighting: 8:02 PM
Torah Reading: Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22
Haftarah: Isaiah 1:1-27